British Dental Health Foundation found that some 415,000 employees took time off work to address dental issues, with over two million having been absent due to toothache in the previous five years.">

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The charity found the bill to UK businesses for absence was on average £600 per employee – with staff on average taking nearly seven days off annually. With the survey revealing that just seven percent of workers received information from their employers on maintaining good oral health, is it now time the HR departments got their teeth stuck into dental health?

Going to work with a smile

Keeping our teeth and gums in good condition should be a priority for us all. A bright smile and fresh breath can boost confidence and, of course, project a better image to colleagues and customers. As many as one in four people regularly suffer from halitosis – bad breath – the key cause of which is poor oral hygiene. The same is true of gingivitis, a bacterial infection which whilst not usually painful – although mouth sores can be a symptom – is an early indicator of gum disease. Untreated it can cause irreversible damage as periodontitis develops, resulting in the loss of teeth and bone, with surgical remedies required. Indeed gingivitis is among the key causes of adult tooth loss – potentially bringing with it the loss of a winning smile and the confidence it can bring.

Pain is a symptom though of the relatively rare acute necrotizing ulcerative gingivitis (ANUG), a condition also known as Vincennes disease and, more graphically, trench mouth due to its prevalence among soldiers in World War One. It can lead to the total loss of the gums between the teeth, large, scarring ulcers, loose teeth and, in the rare worst case scenario, gangrene.

Warding off these conditions requires a good daily dental routine – brushing at least twice daily, flossing or using an interdental toothbrush and gargling with an anti-bacterial mouthwash. Lifestyle choices can also be addressed as things like smoking and poor diet can increase the risk of gingivitis, whilst people suffering from diabetes should be aware of their increased susceptibility. Those taking medication for cardiac conditions, such as the widely prescribed calcium channel blocker verapamil, may also be at higher risk of halitosis as may those taking some vitamin supplements.

Whilst always desirable a daily dental health workout obviously cannot prevent oral cancer. Here risk reduction should focus on lifestyle with the usual suspects of smoking and alcohol in the firing line. Those that have suffered genital warts should also be aware that they face higher risk and watch out for the symptoms which include white or red patches in the mouth, lump(s) within the mouth or neck, pain when eating and weight loss.

If your mouth could only talk

Your mouth can also be a window on your wider health. Research demonstrates that if you suffer from gum disease then you are at increased risk of suffering other, much more serious, ailments. These include coronary heart and other categories of cardiovascular disease and respiratory infections such as pneumonia. Diabetics are more likely to suffer gum disease and need to take particular care over their oral hygiene as it can increase blood sugar levels.

Pregnant women should also take care as gum disease can also significantly increase the risk of a premature birth.

Putting your money where their mouths are – dental health insurance for businesses

As a business proprietor, director or HR professional there are two ways of looking at company dental health insurance plans – as a cost, or an investment. It’s important to firstly note though that a well-designed plan need not place a significant burden on payroll. As employee benefits go, dental plans are relatively low cost and yet valued by staff. This is hardly surprising given that they offer not just prompt treatment but respite from significant bills. Even when using the NHS a member of your staff requiring a bridge, crown or dentures will face a current NHS charge of £219.

The lowest cost plans will cover essential preventative care to help ward off those gum infections, toothaches and identify the possible onset of much more serious conditions like oral cancer. At entry level they’ll include check-ups and advice on maintaining good oral hygiene. Step up and root canal, bridges and periodontal treatments will be covered.

Yes, there’s cost attached but there are rewards too. By providing access to preventative treatments you can help reduce the risk of an employee needing to take time off work whilst, if they do develop a dental health issue, providing prompt access can minimise their absence. There are other less tangible returns to consider, such as the higher esteem – and loyalty – that your employees might hold you in for providing a valued benefit, in showing them care. This is especially true if dental cover is incorporated within a wider company private medical insurance plan or employee benefits programme.

If money really is too tight to mention you could even opt for a voluntary scheme whereby your staff simply enjoy the cost benefits afforded by a group plan, but themselves pay the premiums.

With costs low and the potential returns rewarding, couldn’t company dental insurance raise a smile in your boardroom?